‘Please, please, please!’ She wasn’t begging for just physical fulfilment. She wanted more, wishing that this weren’t a mere casual affair.
He could make her feel so good. She wanted him to like her, wanted to be his equal—in every way. And she wasn’t. She had to shut the door on the flow of love from her heart to his—she couldn’t give it all to him. Not when she wouldn’t get it back. He’d never give it back to her.
In the end she was forced to forget her doubts, to swallow her declaration as her feelings took over. She wouldn’t utter the words, but she couldn’t stop the response of her body. She gave in to the demands of his, took the pleasure he offered. The cries of need were torn from her. The tears of heartbreak would fall later. She’d take the ecstasy now and cope with the empty aftermath when he was gone.
But for once her scream of release was silent.
For a long time he lay on top, still joined with her, his heavy weight pressing her into the mattress, his breath hot on her neck. She didn’t mind; she’d miss it terribly later. She rested her cheek on the pillow and blinked, not wanting him to see any hint of her weakness. Now, more than ever, she had to keep up the party front.
But tiredness stripped her of all protection, all defence.
He lifted his head, took her chin in his hand and turned her face so she was looking straight up at him— there was no way to avoid the intense scrutiny. She held her breath and tried to hide chaos within. She tried to cover the need in her eyes, the love and longing.
But despite her attempt there must have been something in her face that he didn’t want to see because his expression hardened and the veils across his eyes were thicker than she could ever hope hers could be. He let go of her chin, and eased off her. He pushed her gently, rolling her to the side, and fitted his body behind hers in a snug, warm embrace, but one in which she could no longer see his face. And he could no longer see hers.
‘You need to get some sleep.’ A slightly rough command. He rubbed his hand down her back, slow smooth strokes that were firm yet relaxing. And with each sweep her anxiety lessened and the tiredness increased.
Until all her energy to fight and to fret was gone. She closed her eyes. Almost asleep she felt him move, felt the coldness as he left the bed and she wanted to call him back.
She must have done, because after a moment his weight depressed the bed again. She tried to stay awake, to pretend to sleep so she could savour it, but later, when she tried to remember, she couldn’t be sure how long he sat—or indeed if she’d just dreamt it—leaning over her, stroking her hair from her forehead with such a gentle hand.
She jerked upright, heart thundering as consciousness returned and with it all the worry. What the hell was she doing sleeping? This was her last night to find someone—anyone—to organise some music. She glanced at her watch—it was just before nine. Panic set in—she’d spend all night tracking someone down if she had to, it was fundamental for the success of the party. She pulled on some clothes—her usual club outfit of slim dress and strappy sandals.
James was standing, staring out of the window, hair rumpled. A quick glance showed a half-empty takeaway container beside his laptop on the desk. He turned as she wandered into the room, looked surprised. ‘I thought you were asleep for the night.’
‘I need to work on some things.’ She flicked a comb through her hair and gave thanks for straightening irons—they worked wonders in moments.
He took a step towards her. ‘Do you need some help? Is there anything I can do?’
She didn’t want him to soften up now. What had he seen this afternoon in bed? What had he read in her face? She knew he was reaching out to her, but she had to block him—for now anyway. ‘You set me the challenge, James. Let me finish it.’
He frowned. ‘You’re sure you’re managing OK? You still look tired.’
There was more than one reason why she was tired. She pinned on a bright smile. ‘I’m without my make-up.’
He looked sceptical. ‘I’ve seen you freshly scrubbed and wearing nothing but steam. It’s not the lack of make-up.’
No. She was beyond beat. But she refused to give up now. She wanted to do it. She’d been burning to prove something to everyone for so long and she was so close to clinching this. If she could just work out this last detail, she’d have done it. Then maybe James truly would see more in her—maybe she’d let him. If she could prove to him first that she wasn’t totally unreliable, that he could believe in her, she could relax and let her guard down. Maybe, if she did that, he might want her to stick around.